Fined for Fixing a Problem: Council Considers Gravel Alleys

To improve their quality of life, John Roche and his neighbors laid gravel in the alley behind their homes. Instead of praise, they received code compliance violations from the city. Last Wednesday City Council reviewed its options for fixing alleys.

John Roche lives near Florence Street south of Imperial Beach Boulevard, and was tired of dealing with the alley behind his house.

"We would have dust in our bedroom on the second floor. I mean there would be dust all over the place" he said

Deep potholes and stagnant water were also problems, he said.

"In winter when it rains it's there for two weeks in these big puddles. It's crazy," Roche said.

In October 2011, using $900 collected $50 a piece from property owners and renters alike, Roche and his neighbors came together to spread out the gravel across the 600-foot alley and rent equipment. The task finished under budget, and when they were done, each neighbor received $15 to $20 back.

With the gravel in his alley, both potholes and dust have greatly improved. It isn't perfect he said, but the fill has alleviated 80 percent of the problem.

But since gravel does not meet design standards accepted by current city law, a few weeks after gravel was laid, Roche received a notice of violation from the city which could result in misdemeanor criminal charges and a $1,000 fine.

Roche applied for a permit for the project which was denied, but said he believes a member of city staff told him they may look the other way if the work was done on a weekend.

"I wouldn't do anything illegal, but the only reason I did it was because I was given a nod nod wink wink," he said.

City Manager Gary Brown said staff gave no such indication, and that any violations will be suspended until the city decides what to do.

In February he appeared before City Council to contest the violation and possible legal action. He appeared again last Wednesday to discuss seven options council considered.

The city's options are limited to what city staff presented last Wednesday, Mayor Janney told Roche.

"You're before us as you were once before, we have these legal issues on it, and we cannot bless something as of which you've put in there. That's our problem," he said. "Legally we can't. I mean maybe we would like to or something like that, but we just can't do that."

Current standards require that any individual property owner or developer who wants to make improvements to an alley apply for a permit and must pave with concrete or asphault to the nearest street.

Options ranged from sticking with the status quo to allowing property owners to form their own alley improvement assessment districts, which are special zones to pay for improvements.

The city has had successful alley improvement assessment districts in the past, but a plan to pave all 51 of IB's unpaved or deteriorated asphault alleys failed in 2006.

Proposition 218 requires that a majority of voters approve any increase in taxes or assessments. The vote narrowly failed, with 49.9 percent of residents in favor of the creation of two districts.

Another district near Elm Avenue and South Bay Union School District offices failed by a larger margin.

In 2006 the city's redevelopment agency was ready to invest $700,000 to cover initial costs.

At the end of the discussion that took more than an hour last Wednesday, staff was instructed to come back at a future meeting with options for residents or property owners to lay gravel in alleys around IB, otherwise known as Option F.

Ed Soros lives at the end of 9th Street near Bayside Elementary School.

"The garage opens on to the alley, but I only drive down it when I have to," he said after the meeting, adding that potholes more than 10 inches deep is the biggest issue where he lives.

Roche's alley isn't the only one where property owners have decided to lay down gravel, Soros said. He dumps gravel in his alley on occassion as well, and in his experience, alleys he has seen use gravel "have held up just marvelously," he told council last week.

"I would love to put anything behind my house. I've lived in a lot of houses in my life, and sadly, this is the dirtiest I've ever lived in. Next to the school ground and next to the dirt alley. And it's just dusty," he said.

Before the city made any effort to form districts in 2006, the retired 77-year-old went door-to-door in the early 2000s to try and form a private assessment district.

That initiative failed in part, he said, due to bloated cost estimates from the city and other issues.

"It turned into a big boondoggle and it really made a lot of people mad," he said.

"I love this little town," said Soros who has lived in IB for more than 40 years, but he doesn't enjoy dealing with bureaucratic barriers.

In the past the former Marine was especially upset with the process when he said he had to fight to install a flag pole to fly the American flag, and now as he works to expands his home.

He's concerned that whatever option the city puts forward may be over engineered. Like an elephant made up of 1,000 mice, contribution from various city staff and agencies outside of IB could make a standard that makes fixing alleys more difficult than it needs to be.

"It's not rocket science," he said. "You get it out there, grade it down, get four or five guys with shovels and lay it out."

Due to current economic conditions, Soros believes the idea of sending an assessment district back to voters may again fail to receive a majority vote.

Mayor Janney said originally he wanted to see assessment districts sent back to voters, but agreed with Soros' assessment, and believes Option F may be the only way to move forward.

"It's the only thing that we can put out there that gives people the opportunity to help their backyard or back alleys," he said.

Any options approved by council would need to meet standards for storm water and water quality set by regulatory authorities, City Manager Gary Brown said.

Staff said if Option F is adopted, renters and property owners will be responsible for improvements and maintaining alleys. Initial estimates found that thousands of dollars may be neeeded for design, grading and to lay down gravel.

Roche likes the idea that the city may be moving toward a standard that allows residents to use gravel in alleys, but thinks if the solution talked about Wednesday are adopted, money would still be an issue.

"I mean we're little tiny people here," he said. "It was hard to raise $50 from people."

Collecting thousands of dollars to complete the task doesn't seem probable, he said.

"There's no way it would have happened at that price," he said

Libi Uremovic June 11, 2012 at 11:54 PM
the alleys are part of the city and the residence pay taxes to cover the cost of maintaining the streets. the city is wasting money on 'projects' when they can't maintain the basic needs of the residence....that's poor management...
Libi Uremovic June 12, 2012 at 12:13 AM
the city could afford to maintain their streets if they weren't wasting so much money on the code compliance division
Ms. Ida & Mauli June 12, 2012 at 03:33 AM
oh jeeez louise! You got to be kidding me......There was a post about the city council notbeing to afford to do the alleys.....or at least they were going to "table" the alley issue..This good hearted , hard working (although retired) , fella wanted to make things right in his little slice of paradise and look what happens....To the Council or mayor...I am sure you are reading this so take note: Please encourage citizens to do the right thing and make the city a better place....how bout this...can you please just give this man $1000.00 for a community service award, I would gladly pin it....good Job!...Jimmy...you had made a comment a couple of months ago here on the patch " if owners would just take pride in their properties I.B would look nicer and be a better place....THIS WHAT HE IS DOING!...cripes man.....get the cities real pretty John Deere and it would take about three yes three hours to level, grade or do whatever it needs to make it compliant.......I am one more beer away from calling Michael Turko.......Ready for prime time? get your scripted anwers out now....he's coming.
Marcus Boyd June 12, 2012 at 02:47 PM
EDCO uses many of the unpaved alleys to collect garbage every week... Garbage trucks are extremely heavy and contribute greatly to potholes... Has the Mayor, council or city manager invited them to the talks?
CozetteM1@aol.com June 12, 2012 at 03:40 PM
We are regulated to death! It is one of the reasons the city, state and federal governments are broke. Look at the work done on the handicappe curbs! The old ones were put in not that many years ago. Now the "regulations" have been upped so all the old ones, which were fine for years, have to be torn out and new upgraded ones put in. Now there is a cheap, easy solution to our alleys and the city will make it so expensive we can't afford it. WHAT happened to common sense? Oh yes - I forgot, I was talking about government! I do NOT understand why the city doesn't at least maintain the alleys the way they are! Are they not city property??
william blake June 12, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Poor Mr. Roche. He has unwittingly wandered off of the reservation onto UNION territory and into a mine field. Very doubtful he'll escape this predicament unscathed. Too bad our code enforcement "officers" aren't armed with picks and shovels. Hmmm???, 40 hours a week X 2. Thats a lot of dirt moved. Problem solved. But. You try this again Mr. Roche and" I'll get you and your little dog too".
Libi Uremovic June 12, 2012 at 03:57 PM
it has nothing to do with unions...it's our corrupt city manager that's flushing this town into the toilet...
Kelly Tracy June 12, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I usually agree with most of what you have to say Libi but without code compliance this town would look like a dirty third world country. There are still a lot of properties around IB that are beyond an eye sore. I dont expect IB to look like Coronado or La Jolla but I dont want to look at junk, broken down vehicles, peeling paint, falling over fences,tarps on roofs and other makeshift coverings or patches etc. on homes, rentals and other commercial properties.
Kelly Tracy June 12, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Sad but true Mr. Johnson :-/
Libi Uremovic June 12, 2012 at 05:41 PM
code compliance isn't doing their job, they've become predators and they think they can get away with it because they're hiding their funding in rda
Kay Kardian June 12, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I concur with you Libi..unions has nothing to do with it...its just the fat buts sitting around wondering what can we do to the citizens today!!..My alley is also in bad shape and few years back the city was going to pay for the surveying of it but the home owners had to pay for repaving the alleys, I don't know what ever happened about that!!...The alleyway is used just like a street lots of traffic and I thought at the time that it was unfair for the homeowners had to pay for it if everyone is going to use it, that was unfair. We pay to get it fixed and every joe smo uses it. I agree about the trash trucks they are heavy and also when the rain season comes water sits you almost have to use a boat to get out. Its nasty and causes bugs and rats, but code compliance does not touch that part just write citations in his fancy special built seat in his truck supplies by the tax payers. As long as we keep these people in office it will continue to be what it is. ...
Shorebird June 12, 2012 at 05:44 PM
how is a it there is Still a dinosaur in the alley on 12th street ( a code violation for a couple years), but gravel to keep air pollution and muddy potholes under control is a violation? Who does one need to know or be related to in order to have code compliance turn a blind eye? Enough BS already
Shorebird June 12, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I agree Libi!!
Shorebird June 12, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Mr. Johnson Puhleaze make that call
Kelly Tracy June 12, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Maybe EDCO could contribute some of our money that our city council keeps approving in trash collection fees for the repairs. BTW there is no real reason other than mismanagement and greed for the trash fee increase. Again If EDCO scheduled there commercial pick ups for the same days on each block rather than picking up a different dumpster on the same block almost every day and our city made recycling mandatory EDCO would have a greater profit with know "legitimate" reason for continuing to increase our fees.
Dave Fenner June 12, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Sure don't agree with that opinion. I believe that IB has admirable code compliance and good results. Just take a drive east, about two or three blocks, into San Dieog city territory, and you'll see the difference. IB is a smaller town and can more easily enforce code compliance. That's a good thing. Better neighborhoods.
Kelly Tracy June 12, 2012 at 08:11 PM
It's a shame that some people like Shorebird hide behind aliases and spout off about things with little or no clue of what they are talking about. Yes there is a 9 foot tall Dinosaur sculpture in the alley behind my house there is no code violation and if you knew the history of that sculpture and why it is in my driveway than maybe you wouldn't bring an unrelated subject into this forum.
Shorebird June 12, 2012 at 08:38 PM
code violation in code violation. History is the past and the history of that Dinosaur is not related to Imperial Beach.
Ed Sorrels June 12, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Pretty good story Kari but you for some reason have gotten my name wrong, It is Ed Sorrels not soros as in the story. And I still think what ever comes back from the engineering staff for the city is going to be over engineered it is the nature of the beast. I wil;l be there tho to sewe what actually comes back from them. CURIOUS !
Ed Sorrels June 12, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Folk's, A little history, When I first moved to I.B. in 1967 the city maintained the alleys because the trash trucks picked up the older style containers that were placed iin the alleys behind all homes. Once a year they graded the alleys and put dowm some D.G. or gravel or some kind of fill. We even had our own motor grader over at the tenth street yard, The fire department was very strict about weeds, trash and stuff in the alleys as they constitutied a fire hazard and they would issue a ticket if you didn't keep it cleaned up. Then we as a city went broke, We lost our trash trucks and had to jobout the pickup of trash which continues to increase in cost. We lost our police department and now have a sheriff's office that we can't afford,. NO Sand Castle! and the list goes on. The city is broke and scrambling just to pay for life and limb services so it behoves us to maybe cut them some slack and try to help them with solutions to some of these problems instead of the constant constigation of council and staff by folks that are to busy to attend city council meetings and get a sense of just what problems the city is facing. I have my problems with staff but for what they deal with and what they have to deal with it they arn't doing to bad a job. My Opinion !
Ed Sorrels June 13, 2012 at 03:55 AM
And a comment in closing! I think in all fairness the council should this one time tell Mr. Roche "Go and sin no more", He saw a problem and fixed it, effectively, no skin off anyones nose, Let's just put this to rest.
Shorebird June 13, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Did anyone see the situation reported on the channel 10 news last night?
Angie June 14, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Really? Our neighbors are trying to improve/beautify our neighborhood/alley and they get fined? Let's fine our neighbors that dump their crap in the alley!
Curmudgeon June 14, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I saw the News10 story last night, and according to that Roche brought in tractors and graded the alley as well as dumping the gravel the entire block. First... I think Roche is a great neighbor and should be complimented and I am confident he will not face any fines, ect. However... come on folks... we really can't have individuals driving tractors around. As admirable as it is, what if someone's pet, child or property was killed or destroyed? Of course the city can't be in a position of endorsing this kind of activity. Sorrell's is right... throwing some gravel and raking it out (while not as effective) is probably historically okay... but this is something the city can't endorse and it is unfair to criticize on this one. There are too many wild accusations (Libi) that do no good... The world is not out to get you. This will all work out, and if Roche has to pay a fine, everyone can chip in to pay for that too. But he won't, so save your money.
Mark June 14, 2012 at 07:42 PM
There is nothing wrong with putting gravel on the ground in an alley. It is an affordable improvement that one can make to his or her property. This may not be high class paving, however one should agree, it is an improvement. At some point in the future, when the city gets out of the way, citizens will be free to make improvements. I commend Roche and his neighbors for getting together and working together. Besides, NO harm came in doing this. The city has the ability to turn its head on this and should.
Kelly Tracy June 15, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Yes I agree Mark Two Thumbs Up for John and his neighbors coming together with a practical solution. They are only trying to address a heath, safety and quality of there alley, no harm done. If our city cant afford to pave the alley and citizens are willing to come up with and implement a temporary solution than good for them.


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